With different countries taking different approaches to the crisis, it can be hard to know exactly how best to protect ourselves and our loved ones.
If you're unsure what these updates mean for you as a young family, or a mum-to-be, here's all the latest advice for parents, children and expectant parents to keep you in the know.
New coronavirus variant discovered
A new variant of coronavirus, named Omicron by the World Health Organization was initially reported from South Africa but cases are continuing to be detected in the UK.
Omicron has mutations that help it to spread more quickly and make vaccines less effective and the World Health Organization says there is a higher risk of reinfection than with other variants.
In response, the government set out measures including mandatory face masks in shops and on public transport in England from November 30. Other measures will see people arriving in the UK required to take PCR tests and isolate until they get a negative result. They will also ramp up booster vaccines with plans to lower the age so adults aged 18 and over "will have an offer of a booster earlier than we had previously envisaged" explains the deputy chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisation.
Travel: red list countries
Red-list countries are those the UK government says presently have the highest Covid risk, and should not be visited "except in the most extreme of circumstances".
If you’re returning from a red-list country - regardless of your vaccination status - you must:
Take a Covid-19 test before departure and have proof of a negative result.
Complete a passenger locator form.
Self-isolate for 10 days in a government-approved quarantine hotel, booked and paid for in advance.
How to book a PCR test for travel
Most private providers charge above £60 for PCR tests and £30 for lateral flow devices. Some travel companies offer discounts.
You can compare and choose a test provider based on cost and whether they are available in your region.
The government does not endorse or recommend any specific test provider, but they do have a portal on their website to help you find PCR test locations.
A summary of the latest guidance and current coronavirus restrictions can be found here.
How to take a test
Before meeting up with your loved ones under the new guidelines, you might want to take a test to give you all peace of mind. Taking a coronavirus test is easy and it gives you a result within half an hour. This useful video created by the Government with NHS doctor, Dr Amir Khan takes you through each step of taking a rapid self-test, from preparing for the test to how to use your kit correctly.
Currently, you can only order rapid lateral flow home test kits to your home if someone in your household, childcare bubble or support bubble is a school, nursery or college pupil, works in a school, nursery or college (this includes temporary workers or volunteers) or works in an occupation related to a school, nursery or college.
If the above applies to you, you can order your rapid lateral flow home test kits here. A test kit contains 7 tests and you can order one test kit per household each day.
Who can get the COVID-19 vaccine
The NHS is currently offering the COVID-19 vaccine to people aged 18 and over. The vaccine is being offered in some hospitals and hundreds of local vaccination centres run by GPs.
How the COVID-19 vaccine is given
The COVID-19 vaccine is given as an injection into your upper arm.
It's given as 2 doses.
The 2nd dose of the vaccine is likely to be given from 8 to 12 weeks after.
How safe is the COVID-19 vaccine?
The vaccines approved for use in the UK have met strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness set out by the independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
So far, thousands of people have been given a COVID-19 vaccine and reports of serious side effects, such as allergic reactions, have been very rare. No long-term complications have been reported.
Can I have the vaccine if I'm pregnant or breastfeeding?
Yes, pregnancy is the same as the general population, anyone over 18 can get the vaccine. There’s no evidence to say that there are any concerns about having the vaccine in any trimester, there’s absolutely no evidence that it’s unsafe for the mum or the developing foetus.
The reason that pregnant women weren’t advised to get the vaccine initially was because we didn’t have the data available to say that it was absolutely safe – even though all of the scientists said there’s no reasonable reason why it wouldn’t be safe – it was best to be cautious.
We now do have data, from the USA in particular, where the vaccines have been given to pregnant women throughout the pandemic, and more than 100,000 pregnant women have been vaccinated with the mRNA vaccines such as Pfizer and Moderna, and there have been no safety concerns.
You do not need to avoid pregnancy after vaccination. The vaccine cannot give you or your baby COVID-19.
What are the Covid-19 symptoms?
The most common symptoms are a cough, high temperature and shortness of breath.
The advice is that you should not call your GP at all if you suspect someone in your household has COVID-19. Instead, you should get a test if you think you or your child had coronavirus. You can get a COVID-19 test for free from the NHS in two main ways, either by driving to a test centre, or ordering a test online or by calling 119.
Things you need to know about coronavirus if you're pregnant
It’s understandably a very worrying time for most people around the world with the current coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.
If you’re pregnant, your anxiety levels are bound to be heightened as your concerns grow for the welfare of you and your baby, so it’s important you know the facts and try not to focus too much on the scary news reports. There is still no evidence that pregnant women are more at risk of contracting the virus. There is also no evidence that coronavirus increases the chances of miscarriage.
While scientists are still trying to find out more about the virus and how it affects us, the experts suggest that pregnant women don’t have an increased chance of contracting coronavirus. According to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, ‘pregnant women do not appear to be more susceptible to the consequences of infection with COVID-19 than the general population.’
Can I have my partner with me to support me at scans and at the hospital?
Thankfully the answer to this has now changed to yes, in England at least. A recent document shared on the NHS website, sets out three key actions which NHS trusts should take to enable women to receive support from a partner, relative, friend or other person when receiving maternity care during the COVID-19 pandemic.
So, pregnant women in England will be permitted to have one person beside them at all stages of their maternity journey. The document states:
"Pregnant women value the support from a partner, relative, friend or other person through pregnancy and childbirth as it facilitates emotional wellbeing and is a key component of safe and personalised maternity care. Women should therefore have access to support at all times during their maternity journey and trusts should facilitate this, while keeping the risk of transmission of the virus within NHS maternity services (including to pregnant women, other service users and staff) as low as possible. This means welcoming the woman and her support person, regarding them as an integral part of both the woman and baby’s care throughout and not as a visitor. It includes making sure that women can safely take a support person to:
the early pregnancy unit
all antenatal scans
other antenatal appointments where the woman considers it important to have support
labour and birth from the point of attendance at the hospital or midwifery unit."
Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) vice president and consultant obstetrician, Dr Jo Mountfield adds, "If you are required to visit a maternity unit you will be asked to keep the number of visitors to a minimum, or go by yourself, depending on the unit policy.
"Now there are an increasing number of services that will only allow the women themselves to come for routine ultrasound scans. While this is disappointing please be aware this is primarily for you and your baby’s safety, and also the safety of our staff performing the scans. You should though have the opportunity to have your partner with you at the birth.
"To limit social contact, antenatal classes are being cancelled, it is though worth getting in touch with your local provider as many online classes are being arranged so you don’t miss out on this really useful information, and also meeting other parents-to-be"
What if I catch coronavirus while I’m pregnant?
Dr Jo Mountfield says, "It is reassuring that so far the evidence suggests that pregnant women with no underlying health conditions and their babies are at no more risk of contracting coronavirus than other healthy individuals.
"So far there is also no evidence that the virus can pass to your unborn child while you are pregnant or during the birth."
However, women in the third trimester are at a slight increased risk of becoming severely unwell if they get Covid at that stage of pregnancy. And if they do have complications it can be more difficult to treat, so if women need to go on a ventilator for example.
Also part of the treatment for severe Covid is often proning people (putting them on their belly) and obviously in the third trimester there are difficulties with both of those types of treatment, as well as limitations to what drugs might be safe to use. Therefore, the best thing to do is get vaccinated – ideally before pregnancy, but if you are pregnant, before the third trimester, to protect yourself.
Can I still breastfeed if I have coronavirus?
As for giving your baby breastmilk, there is no evidence that the Covid-19 virus can pass into our milk and, as breast milk is likely to give your baby added antibody protection against Covid-19 as well as all the other bugs that are common at this time of year.
Even if you have the virus yourself, the benefits of breastfeeding still outweigh the risk of you passing the virus on by coughing or sneezing, say the Royal College of Midwives. If you do have the virus and are breastfeeding, it is obviously important to try and keep pumps, bottles and your breast area very clean and try and wear a facemask if you can get your hands on one.
Should I be worried about catching coronavirus in the hospital?
Although hospitals are very clean places, it's understandable that you might feel concerned about catching coronavirus while you're there.
If you're due to give birth in the coming months in a hospital and are worried about possibly contracting the virus there, you should talk with your midwife or doctor about any concerns you may have. It might be worth having a think about other back-up options if the prospect of a hospital is causing you anxiety.
Many health trusts are increasing the number of home births they are carrying out for mother's who may be concerned about catching the virus in hospital. You can find out more here about organising a home birth.
Are IVF clinics open?
Whilst fertility clinics can continue to offer treatment across the UK, treatment at some clinics will be affected by the pandemic. Some may have to reduce the numbers of patients they can treat or stop treatments temporarily. This may be due to staff having to be redeployed to other areas of the NHS. Patients are advised to keep in contact with their clinic who can update them on any changes to their services.
What extra hygiene precautions can me and my family be taking?
Be vigilant with the government's advice of washing hands regularly, using the test and trace app and testing when you have symptoms.
If you are pregnant and do have underlying health conditions it is important to take even more precautions.
Ensure everyone uses a tissue or a sleeve to cough or sneeze into and then immediately bins it before re-washing hands.
Encourage your child to avoid touching their eyes, mouth and nose with their hands, no matter how clean they are.
There is currently no evidence that COVID-19 causes serious problems in young babies. In any event, if your baby seems unwell and has a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius or more, you should get them checked by your GP.
Wherever possible, use soap and water and save antibac gel for when you can’t find a sink.
Encourage your children to choose a 20-second song to sing and ensure you support their good habits by having soap, water and towels easy to reach and use.
Other useful contacts
Read more about the latest scientific findings around coronavirus and pregnancy from The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
Find out more about calling 111 and other NHS resources you can use if you're concerned you might have coronavirus.